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Boko Haram Attacks and the Role of Intelligence

This week, Boko Haram continued its offensive campaign against security forces in the region. Chad experienced two attacks, the first being a bombing incident in which 3 IEDs were detonated. One was detonated at a fish market and the other two were detonated at a refugee camp resulting in the deaths of at least 37 civilians. The second Boko Haram attack in Chad was a frontal attack on Chadian soldiers, when insurgents attacked the soldier’s at their positions at about 4.30am. This surprise attack claimed the lives of 11 soldiers and wounded 13 (and) 17 Boko Haram fighters were killed.

In Niger, 3 suicide bombers were killed when their suicide IEDs prematurely detonated while en-route to their intended targets. These recent Boko Haram offensive taking place in neighboring Niger and Chad is going on despite the recent deployment of the regional Multinational Joint Task Force. The insurgent group does not plan on going down without a fight and is doing all it can to counter the offensive military campaign.

These regional attacks also show that the issue of porous borders needs to be actively tackled in order to prevent the ease of movements and transfer of weapons and knowledge within the region. Several intelligence collection technologies which can be deployed in order to actively track border movements exists and the regional governments need to look into a collaborative effort to employ these technologies. These tools will help show the necessary security professionals which obscured border crossing routes are being used by the insurgents.

In Yobe state, 3 IEDs detonated resulting in the deaths of 15 civilians. One IED detonated at a Fulani settlement behind a housing estate. The second IED detonated at a mosque in the compound of a government workers’ housing estate called Buhari Housing Estate, and the third IED detonated at a shopping center within the same estate.

Also in Yobe, a military base was attacked overnight by a large group of insurgents which the Nigerian Army said resulted in the death of 100 terrorists! Two lessons arise from this incident… the first is the security personnel appear to be reactive in nature, evident in their being caught off guard. The second is these attacks could also be indicative of a major intelligence collection paucity.

The Army chief visited the Yobe military camp that was attacked and expressed his displeasure that despite all the advanced military weapons and equipment available at the base, the troops stationed there were still attacked by such a large number of insurgents. According to him, “the troops just sat on all the equipment without adopting them for their intended use” of going after the insurgents, while protecting themselves and the surrounding communities. In other words, the troops did not take an offensive strategy which is the central part of counter-terrorism operations. The terrorists must be found out and their attack plans foiled before they are able to strike. Once an attack occurs, it can be seen as a counter-terrorism failure, and the individuals in charge of anticipating such attacks before they occur reside within the intelligence community.

After the Abuja bombing which took place earlier in this month, security and surveillance was increased across the capital. Meetings of security experts were conveyed, questions about the lack of a functioning CCTV around the state were asked. But all these things comprise of reactive actions. Counter terrorism strategies require that the security apparatus of the nation are proactive in identifying possible attacks before they occur. This is where running efficient and effective intelligence organizations come in.

Intelligence Lapse

A good intelligence collection apparatus should have advance indications and warnings about an imminent attack. If a group of 100 insurgents are congregating, planning and mobilizing for an attack, active and effective intelligence analysts should have gotten wind of such an operation, be it visually through 24hour aerial surveillance, or via interception of insurgent communications or perhaps through their network of informants on the ground. Looking at it from this perspective, it is easy to see why the Army chief was displeased about the lack of active intelligence gathering which could have given the troops in Yobe forewarning and saved lives.

Some members of the opposing political party called for an overhaul of the country’s security and intelligence agencies. In reality, when a terrorist attack occurs, intelligence agencies are usually blamed for the blunder. For example, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center was seen as a U.S intelligence failure. Intelligence personnel denied this accusation, however further investigation into the matter revealed that there were some short-comings within the intelligence community that impeded them from preventing the attacks. One of these weak points was in the lack of information sharing. For that reason, the U.S government and intelligence leadership put measures in place that helped increase information sharing in the hopes of forestalling such an incident again on its soil.

Intelligence agencies prevent terrorist attacks on a daily basis; a lot of these foiled attacks go unreported. But when that one attack occurs, the intelligence community is blamed for missing it. However, when multiple attacks keep occurring, it is a sign that some form of an extensive overhaul does need to occur. Naturally, intelligence personnel will beg to differ, however, the answers are in the results.

Identifying the Insurgent Networks

Despite these infirmities, the army reported the capture of several key Boko Haram individuals including the apprehension of a Boko Haram financier & stimulant dealer, who was arrested in Bama with 1M Naira cash & other items. Another suspected Boko Haram sponsor, who had been parading himself as a military brigadier general was also apprehended. More Boko Haram members were arrested based on the confessions of those apprehended.

The military released the names of the individuals arrested and security organizations can use these names to carry out social network analysis on the insurgents which will help identify the decentralized cells and the connections of the various insurgent groups. An example of the effective use of social network analysis was in the case of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Intelligence organizations through interrogation received the name of an Al-Qaida operative called Al-Kuwaiti. Through social network analysis and communication interception, Al-Kuwaiti was identified as a courier who lived with his brother and another high valued target (Osama) in Pakistan.

The point of all this is that combating insurgencies and terrorism requires effective and efficient intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination, and ground troops should be acting based on intelligence received. Dealing with our Boko Haram insurgency will require the use of intelligence tools, techniques and software as a part of the nation’s counter terrorism and counter insurgency strategies.

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1 comment

  1. Chinedu

    Very insightful and thought provoking argument.Your ideas on Nigeria’s security especially as it regards Intelligence are BRIGHT and should be looked into.First time i visited your website,but it certainly wont be my last.The rivers of knowledge never die here

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